Excerpts from transcript of meeting with representatives from Crimean ethnic groups’ public associations
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, friends.
Let me start by saying a few words, and then we will have a free discussion on the subject that has brought us together.
One can’t help but experience special feelings and emotions here in Crimea, not just because this is such a beautiful place with unique nature, but also because you feel so fully and closely here the link with all of Russia’s history and with the unique cultural and spiritual heritage that different peoples shaped over the centuries here in this land.
As you know, a census was conducted in Crimea last October, and more than 96 percent of the people indicated their ethnic identity. This is objective data, reliable and obtained through professional work. There are people from 175 different ethnic groups living in Crimea today. Russians make up the biggest ethnic group (68 percent), followed by Ukrainians (16 percent), and Crimean Tatars (more than 10 percent). The census also gave us information on people’s native languages. Eighty-four percent of Crimean residents said they consider Russian their native language, nearly 8 percent said Crimean Tatar is their native language, 3.7 percent Tatar, and 3.3 percent Ukrainian. Russian is the most widely spoken language in the region, with 99.8 percent of Crimea’s population knowing the language.
Crimea is essentially a mirror of multi-ethnic Russia. Here, like everywhere in Russia, we need to pay the utmost, constant attention to building greater peace and harmony, combining the efforts of the state authorities and civil society. I therefore consider this meeting with you, the representatives of Crimean Federal District’s ethnic public associations, very important indeed.
Let me remind you that one of our first steps after Crimea was reunited with Russia was to enshrine in law the equality of the region’s three official languages: Russian, Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar. This was a matter of principle for us, because over the preceding period of more than 20 years, a biased approach was taken to this issue in the region. Restoring historical justice and the balance of interests between the region’s peoples was one of our greatest tasks, as was full rehabilitation of all repressed peoples in Crimea.
It was for this purpose that I issued the Presidential Executive Order that you know of, and the Russian Government and the regional authorities of Crimea and Sevastopol approved a comprehensive package of measures for its implementation. They concern the social and spiritual revival of the Armenian, Bulgarian, Greek, Crimean Tatar and German minorities, who were subjected to unlawful deportation and political repression.
I stress the point that creating an atmosphere of trust and mutual understanding between the different ethnic groups is a key issue for the region’s successful development. We can resolve the problems that have built up, including social support for the rehabilitated peoples, only if we ensure political stability and interethnic harmony.
Over this recent period, 75 ethnic and cultural autonomous organisations and 15 ethnic and cultural associations have been established. Organisations of this kind have long since become a tradition in Russia. Their members work effectively together with the authorities at all levels and sit on consultative and advisory bodies.
It is good to see that this approach is producing positive results in Crimea too. I think that the region’s ethnic and cultural associations should take a more active part in public life here in Crimea, and not only here, but in all of Russia, participating in national and interregional events too.
Colleagues, I have said before that interethnic relations is a very sensitive and delicate area, and ethnic community representatives and the authorities all need to take a careful approach here and keep up constant dialogue, including at the municipal level, where people are actually living side by side together.
In this context, any speculation on the notion that people belonging to this or that ethnic group have some particular rights is very dangerous, in my view. We need to defend the interests of all people in Crimea and Sevastopol, regardless of whether they are Russian, Ukrainian, Crimean Tatar, or any of the other peoples I mentioned. We need to make use of the wealth of experience we have built up in Russia, where people of a huge variety of ethnic groups all live together. We need to promote the idea of a common cause, get people involved in tackling the problems of their town or village, and help them to organise local government.
Each region, including in the Crimean Federal District, should have regional programmes to support non-governmental organisations that contribute to interethnic peace and harmony. Today, August 17, marks the start of the latest tender for bids to receive state grants for carrying out projects of social importance and projects to protect human rights and freedoms. We are allocating more than 4 billion rubles for this work this year. I hope that NGOs from Crimea and Sevastopol will also take an active part in this tender.
This is all I wanted to say for now. I hope we will have an active discussion today on all the very important matters I have just outlined, and if you have any other issues you wish to raise, feel free – I am here at your disposal. Please, go ahead.
Head of the Qirim Interregional Crimean Tatar Public Movement Remzi Ilyasov: Good afternoon, Mr President.
I want to note right away that the Crimean Republic’s accession to the Russian Federation was a momentous event for all ethnic groups in the Republic of Crimea, including the Crimean Tatars.
We all passed through the most dangerous period together in February and March 2014, when we did not allow interethnic conflicts to ensue. Regardless of what happened and what provocations occurred, we maintained peace. Today, we have peace, calm, and we are working to resolve problems.
I represent and head the Qirim public movement of the Crimean Tatar people. From the outset, we established a constructive dialogue with the authorities and are systematically holding meetings with the public; among other things, we have assumed a certain level of responsibility for the overall situation in Crimea, sharing it with the authorities. We are participating in all Crimea-wide events held in the Republic of Crimea and are organising and holding Crimean Tatar celebrations.
Thanks to the initiative and active work by members of the Qirim public movement of Crimean Tatar people, during the elections to the State Council and local offices, we were able to reduce a certain amount of political conflict and ethnic tensions.
At the same time, while this productive, creative work and constructive dialogue with the authorities was underway, we saw another attempt in August to destabilise the situation in the Republic of Crimea, to strain interethnic relations. I am referring to the so-called Global Congress of Crimean Tatars, which was held on August 1–2 in Ankara. Although it could be called a club of the like-minded, its main goal was to pit the people of Crimea against each other and destabilise the situation.
I must note that we anticipated this situation and the work of this congress, its resolution and the declaration that was to be adopted there. On July 25 (one week before this congress), we held a second conference for the Qirim interregional movement. It was attended by all public associations, regardless of whether their positions or points of view coincide with ours.
There were 520 participants in the work of the conference, over 20 public organisations of Crimean Tatars. Even the spiritual leader of Crimean Muslims, hajji Emirali Ablayev (who is sitting next to me), participated in the work of the conference, as well as representatives from regional divisions of the spiritual administration of Crimean Muslims.
Moreover, the conference was also attended by 152 individuals representing Crimean Tatar creative professionals, small and midsize businesses, economic entities, 52 officials from state institutions, state representatives, one third of the delegates of the Kurultai of the Crimean Tatar people (this is an ethnic conference of Crimean Tatars) and about 70 individuals who represented local and regional self-organised Crimean Tatar groups. As a result, the conference took on the format of a national gathering of Crimean Tatars in the Republic of Crimea.
The assessment of what was happening in Ankara was very civil, and also very precise. There was a unanimous expression of opposition to the destructive activities of the group of politicians that found shelter in Kiev and support confrontation, including the violation of international relations.
Thank you for your attention.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you, Mr Ilyasov.
First of all, I would like to thank the Crimean Tatar people for their active participation in the referendum that was held a little over a year ago. Objective data shows that the turnout among Crimean Tatars was slightly lower than the overall Crimean average, but the percentage of those who voted for reunification with Russia turned out to be even higher than in Crimea overall. This is easy to explain, since those who were against it simply did not go to vote, apparently. So the turnout was a little lower. But ultimately, it was also quite high, over 60 percent, if I remember correctly, somewhere around 66 percent. This is a very high turnout according to all international standards. And the fact that people came and voted says a great deal. But it also speaks to the fact that the government must fulfil certain significant objectives, because the people voted to change their lives for the better. The executive order I spoke about, and the decisions that were then made at the Governmental level, are aimed at ensuring that people’s expectations are met.
You spoke about those who try to somehow destabilise the situation, particularly through Crimean Tatar issues, but we know well who you are talking about. There are many people who consider themselves to be professional fighters for human rights. For these people, it does not matter what rights these are, and it doesn’t matter whose rights they are. What’s important is that they are fighters, and they want to receive foreign grants to realise their ambitions, including their political ambitions. If they want to realise their ambitions in another state, that’s great, they should go ahead and do it. But I fully agree with you that it doesn’t mean we will allow them to realise their ambitions here, especially since these ambitions have nothing in common with the interests of the Crimean Tatar people and the interests of the actual people living here.
Nevertheless, we have the question of whether these rights should be fought for. I will respond in the affirmative: yes, they should be fought for. What should our joint work on this entail? It’s one thing to issue an executive order, a law, or a Government resolution, and another to achieve implementation. I am not sure everything would go smoothly and within the timeline that we would like to implement these objectives. The truth is, life is always more complex and multifaceted than any decision that looks good on paper, but exists only on paper. Whereas we need to ensure that these things are implemented in real life.
Therefore, this connection with people, particularly people on the ground, with public associations like the ones you all represent, including your organisation, is very important for me and is very much needed. I very much count on working with you closely and constructively.
As for the attempts to destabilise, I think that ordinary people can tell on their own that it is impossible to promote anybody’s ambitions if those ambitions have nothing to do with the interests of real people, and the Crimean Tatar problems are used only as an instrument for achieving these personal ambitions. We simply have to keep this in mind. But overall, we will work with anybody who has a constructive outlook, even if it is critical, but nevertheless constructive, and wants to achieve practical results – and that includes me, personally.
Remzi Ilyasov: Thank you.
Chairman of the Crimean Republican Association of Germans of the Crimea Yury Gempel: Mr President, thank you for giving me the floor.
The ethnic and cultural public associations in the Republic of Crimea have always positioned themselves as an integral part of the Russian world. Thus, we participated actively in the referendum, and the leaders of our ethnic groups were members of the Supreme Council commission for holding the referendum, the commission for writing the Constitution, and many others. We have tried to integrate into the legal field of the Russian Federation fairly quickly and at the end of last year, we registered our regional ethnic and cultural associations – actually, the Presidential executive order addressed this.
In holding cultural events, events pertaining to the cultures of our peoples, last year – and this year too, we are still working on it – we paid special attention to the People’s Diplomacy project. Last year, we invited two groups of German citizens to come here, including many journalists, and showed them Crimea. You know, when we met them at the airport, they asked, “Where are the tanks and armed soldiers?” We have everything here, but at deployment sites. We organised for them to meet with the republic’s executive authorities, including the leaders of the Crimean State Committee for Interethnic Relations and Deported Citizens (this was a meeting in the Q&A format), with representatives of the public and with local ethnic Germans. When they were leaving, they said, “You know, this is our subjective opinion but 80% of Germans support Crimea’s choice and the Russian Federation’s policy overall.” I thought they were probably joking, but then they sent us a magazine featuring five publications along the same lines. That’s why my colleagues, ethnic Bulgarians and Greeks, are also taking part in this kind of People’s Diplomacy project.
At the same time, there is are a fairly good understanding within the Republic of Crimea’s leadership about the framework project to create an ethnographic village. We studied these projects implemented in other Russian regions and abroad. There are positive experiences, we do not have to reinvent the wheel, but nevertheless, Mr President, in this respect, we would like to speed up the implementation of this project. Moreover, we ourselves are ready to participate in this project financially.
At the same time, we are currently giving particular attention to projects and grantswork, where my colleagues and I are giving particular attention to the integration of Crimean citizens into Russia’s legal field. And naturally, these are the projects related to preserving the identity of ethnic groups living in the Republic of Crimea. If possible, we ask that you pay attention to this and provide assistance.
Vladimir Putin: What will this ethnographic village be like? How will it look? Is this a place for people to live or a kind of open-air museum?
Yury Gempel: Mr President, let’s say this also involves tourist activity. In general, speaking frankly, this will be an ethnographic commercial project. In other words, our project will give us an opportunity to use our ethnic cultures to make Crimea more appealing in terms of tourism, while at the same we will be able to preserve our ethnic culture. It includes our ethnic cuisine, ethnic souvenirs, and houses of certain architectural styles; so, that is what an ethnographic village would look like.
Vladimir Putin: I see. This will be a tourism centre.
Yury Gempel: An ethno-tourism centre.
Vladimir Putin: How long have Germans been in Crimea? Since the 18th century?
Yury Gempel: The first colony was registered in 1810.
Vladimir Putin: The 19th century.
Yury Gempel: Germans came here following the Manifesto of Alexander I. In 2004, we celebrated its 200th anniversary. Until 1944, we had a fairly large number of German settlements here with German names.
Vladimir Putin: Ok, thank you. I think we will need to help, of course.
Yury Gempel: Thank you.
Chairman of the Russian Community of Crimea Sergei Tsekov: We are going through a period when we constantly compare things. We compare what is happening in Ukraine with what is happening in Crimea and Russia. But I want to make a different comparison. If we look at the life of ethnic communities over these 23 years as part of Ukraine, I want to note that over the course of those 23 years, there was not a single meeting with the President of Ukraine – any President of Ukraine – nor a Ukrainian Prime Minister, or deputy prime ministers, or ministers. There was not a single meeting that brought together representatives from all of Ukraine’s ethnic communities, including Crimea’s Russian community. This, of course, is the evidence of the true attitude to interethnic unity issues we are facing today.
I am certain that for many years, Ukraine mainly sowed discord between us, nominally supporting representatives from the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People (that was the policy) and absolutely did not see the problems faced by ethnic Russians and, by and large, the Slavic part of the population – we have always felt that there was little difference between the Russians and Ukrainians in Crimea.
I think these meetings should become regular. Of course, regular does not mean every year. It could be once every five years. But we should think about this topic, and perhaps, these do not need to be meetings with you, personally, although we would naturally like to meet with you first and foremost, but also other Russian Federation officials.
I also have another suggestion. Over the course of many years, we tried to create an interethnic council in Crimea and raised this issue many times. We even developed regulations on interethnic council. But it didn’t work out, particularly due to position of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People.
I generally feel that we should return to the subject of an interethnic council and start a serious dialogue with the Crimean Tatar community over this matter.
Of course, we will have peace and interethnic harmony when we meet one another halfway, but we should not try to lie. You know, people say, “Let’s live in peace and harmony.” But these words should be backed by real actions. If there are real actions to prove the desire to meet other ethnic groups halfway, then we will build trust.
Mr President, there is another issue that’s a little off-topic. We just had a discussion on developing tourism; we discussed it at the State Council. I think Christian Orthodox tourism is a very interesting topic for Crimea. Christian Orthodox tourism should be oriented not only toward Jerusalem, not just Mount Athos, but also Crimea and Chersonesus.
The next point is that we talk a great deal about World War I. Things are clear with World War II, we treat it with respect and honour. And we are back now to the question of World War I, but we are not active enough with regard to the Crimean War while this was actually Word War I on Crimea’s territory. We need to fully restore the memory of the Crimean War. In particular, I want to say that we have restored many monuments and memorials.
I think September 9 is Remembrance Day for soldiers that fell in the Crimean War, which we in Crimea have been observing since 1996 (this was our initiative, Crimea’s Supreme Council adopted a resolution and this day was marked in Crimea). I feel that this date should be a commemorative one in Russia’s history, particularly in the law that defines holidays and commemorative dates.
Thank you, Mr President.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you, Mr Tsekov.
I will begin with the historical memory of the Crimean War. It is a very important page in our national history. You are certainly right, but I cannot say that absolutely everything has been forgotten, the way it was with World War I, where people tried to forget it entirely. Here, this is not the case, but you are right that we have given it little attention.
Next, we certainly need to develop archaeological tourism and everything related to establishing the basis of the Russian nation as it began to form after Vladimir’s baptism and the Baptism of Rus. This is certainly very important. We must also make the appropriate decisions at the federal level, so they are implemented the way you suggest. We will certainly do this.
Now, with regard to interethnic council. You need to decide that for yourselves, you should come to an agreement with everyone sitting here. Furthermore, I think it is very important that this should not be done to argue with someone over there. No, it should simply be a matter of resolving your own issues and problems, and not as a confrontation: they said this, but we are of a different opinion. Instead, you should meet like this from time to time to consider everything, just as you did to make a decision on building an Orthodox church and a mosque.
And building upon this positive – I want to stress it – positive joint work, you should address other issues. And if there are any matters under dispute, I think you should not politicise them but instead start with historical and cultural analysis. Because many issues that have become charged at a political or mundane level always have a link to the past.
For example, there was just a discussion about the native peoples of this area. What if it really were the Greeks? Or what if it were the Hazaras? Who knows what were the boundaries of a particular state or kaganate back then. Do you understand how far you can dive into it? This will involve endless digging into history without any practical use. What will be practical is when people sit down over a cup of tea and start discussing current affairs, how to move on, how to create favourable conditions for our children to be happy living together.
I think you are right that such a council wouldn’t hurt. But that should be your decision. We will certainly support it if you make that decision.
As for the regularity of meetings, I also agree with you. We should certainly make these meetings regular, give them some sort of systemic foundation. But once every five years is not really regular, we could do it more often, and some sort of regularity in direct communication could be organised and would be quite useful.
Chairman of the Crimean Republican Association of Bulgarian Community Ivan Abazher: Mr President,
I want to support what Mr Tsekov said just now. Crimea’s Bulgarian community has established an ethnic and cultural association, and we are aware of the new opportunities now open to us at a new level. There are opportunities now at the national level for us to study the past and its links with the Bulgarians here in Crimea.
I returned from a recent trip to Moscow, during which I learned that in Moscow there is a monument to the heroes of Plevna [a monument to the Russian grenadiers who gave their lives in battle near the Bulgarian town of Plevna during the 1877–1878 Russo-Turkish War]. Seriously, I did not know of this monument before. Previously, we organised several expeditions together with the federal university here and studied the archives in Crimea to find out which regiments and when were sent to liberate Bulgaria, which were sent to Shipka, and so forth. And then we had the idea that the Bulgarians living in the Russian Federation could take responsibility for looking after this monument and take care of its upkeep, so as to give it a dual purpose.
We have more than 20 years of experience as a public organisation here and we put this to use in organising the events we hold. We can make use of people’s diplomacy, cultural diplomacy and business diplomacy to bring ideas together in the Black Sea basin and have an influence on the processes taking place, including an information influence.
We were the first here in Crimea to organise a visit by a group of parliamentarians from Bulgaria. We were the first to begin broadcasting video information in regular, systematic fashion via the channel that this party has at its disposal. We broadcast full information on what is happening here, and we can see to what extent the Bulgarians, not just in Bulgaria itself, but throughout the Black Sea region, understand the isolation that our opponents in the West have put us in today. Judging by the information we now see coming from Bulgaria, we are on the right road.
We think it is precisely this kind of people’s and cultural diplomacy that can help us live better throughout the Black Sea region and can prevent actions that might arise today in connection with Bulgaria being a NATO member. Working through public organisations and information platforms, we can show that here in Crimea, we have peace and quiet, and that organisations such as ours can meet with the Russian President and we can have a real influence on perceptions that people in Bulgaria and other countries are forming today.
Vladimir Putin: Mr Abazher, as far as Bulgaria’s membership in NATO goes, this is something that has already happened and is a fact we must live with. I cannot say that this worries us in any way. I am not sure that Bulgarians themselves are overjoyed about it, but the decision has been taken. This was the Bulgarian people’s sovereign decision and we respect it and will work together with Bulgaria, regardless of the difficulties we have had in carrying out some of our projects, including energy sector projects such as South Stream. We believed that this project was in the interests of Bulgaria, its economy and people, but Bulgaria’s government has decided otherwise and has essentially abandoned this project. But this does not mean that we will break off our relations with Bulgaria. On the contrary, we consider this country very close spiritually and historically, and we will do everything we can to continue developing our relations in all areas.
As for the Bulgarians who have long since settled here in these lands, they form one of the ethnic diaspora communities and have full rights as citizens of the Russian Federation. This is how we see them. I hope very much that, as you said just now, the Bulgarian community’s links to Bulgaria, the historic motherland, will help to develop relations in general between Russia and Bulgaria.
Thank you very much.
Chairman of Crimean Republican Association of Crimean Karaites Dmitry Polkanov: Mr President,
I will speak on behalf of the Crimean Karaite community. The Crimean Karaites are one of the smallest peoples in the world. There are now only around 1,300 of us in Russia and slightly less than 2,000 in the world as a whole. Crimea is our historical homeland. Our temples and holy places are here. We never were a numerous people. There were 16,000 Karaites in tsarist Russia.
Vladimir Putin: Yet another of the indigenous ethnic groups here.
Dmitry Polkanov: There were only 16,000 of us, but 400 people fought as career officers alone during World War I. Hundreds of soldiers and officers fought during the Great Patriotic War, including such famous Karaites as Marshal Malinovsky and the famous intelligence officer [Iosif] Grigulevich. Forced emigration and losses in war considerably reduced our numbers, but we have hopes for revival.
Thanks to last year’s events and the action taken by Head of Crimea Sergei Aksyonov and Presidential Envoy Oleg Belaventsev, we, the biggest community here in Crimea, were given the Simferopol temple, which we had fought for without result for more than two decades. Worship has been taking place there for a year now. We hope that a Sunday school for studying our language and culture will start in September, and we have gathered a unique collection of material for a future ethnic museum. We have decided to use the temple as not just a spiritual but also an ethnic community centre. We are grateful for the good treatment we have received and hope very much for a federal programme to help us revive and preserve our culture.
Thank you very much.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, we will do this.
Incidentally, I did not reply on the matter of languages. Our colleague spoke about studying ethnic communities’ languages in school. This is a very important matter. Let me note that in Russia’s various ethnic republics, this issue has been resolved overall and quite effectively too. In the ethnic republics, the local languages are studied and children know their people’s language. This is going ahead very actively in Russia today and has the Education Ministry’s support. Mr Minnikhanov could probably tell us how they go about it in Tatarstan.
Acting President of the Republic of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov: Yes, I can confirm that we study our language. We have two official languages – Russian and Tatar, and they are taught in all schools. But we take into account specific circumstances too and we have schools where everything is in Tatar, and schools with more intensive study of the language. Overall though, there is one programme for native Tatar speakers, and a simplified programme for Russians or members of other ethnic groups, teaching them the basics for communication today. This system works. We could share our experience.
Vladimir Putin: Many of the Volga region republics have a slightly different system. The approaches differ in the details, but overall, the problem is settled and the solution has proved effective.
Rustam Minnikhanov: Mr President, Chuvash make up three percent of our population, and we have 95 Chuvash schools, where study is going ahead without problem. We also have Udmurt schools.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, there are no problems in general. The main thing is to organise the whole system. No one will get in the way here. On the contrary, we will do what we can to help. You simply need to organise this at the regional level, that’s all.
Chairperson of the Krymchakhlar Society of Krymchaks Dora Pirkova: I represent Crimea’s indigenous people, the Krymchaks.
Vladimir Putin: TheKrymchaks?
Dora Pirkova: Yes.
Vladimir Putin: Another indigenous people.
Dora Pirkova: The Krymchaks have long lived in Crimea, in the 13th to 15th centuries. They were mainly based in Belogorsk. But after the revolution, they settled in other areas, including in Simferopol and Sevastopol. After the revolution, there were schools in Crimea, and for example, my father competed four grades in a Krymchak school. Then, during the war, the schools disappeared. I want to say that my entire family consists of indigenous residents of Crimea; all my predecessors are Crimean Krymchaks and we have no other homeland, only Crimea.
Unfortunately, during the years of war, our people were exterminated. Before the war, there were 10,000–12,000 of us, but after the war, 80% of us had been killed, since we follow the Jewish faith. There was also the repatriation to Israel in the 1990s.
Vladimir Putin: I imagine the Khazars are your ancestors.
Dora Pirkova: Yes.
After the repatriation of the 1990s, even fewer Krymchaks remained; according to the 2001 census, there were about 400 remaining, and according to the 2014 results, there were a little over 200; in other words, this people is disappearing. Unfortunately, we have lost our language. In 2014, we created the Krymchaks ethnic and cultural association and the Crimean community of Krymchaks. We created the world’s only Krymchak museum where, bit by bit, we have gathered materials and archives on the history and traditions of the Krymchaks. This was an indigenous people with its own culture, traditions and religion. Unfortunately, the prayer houses were also destroyed during the war. There is a house of worship in Simferopol that is now a residential building. This is a very sensitive issue, because we have been long asking to give this building the status of an architectural landmark, vacate it, bring it to order, so that we are able to hold some religious ceremonies there. But the issue remains unresolved.
And another question. We would like for our people to be given the status of an indigenous people of Russia – and we have submitted our suggestions to be included in the Russian and Crimean constitutions. But so far, this issue remains unresolved. We would ultimately like to be given the status of an indigenous people of Russia, since we have no other homeland than Crimea, and we would like to gain more attention and for our people to have certain benefits. There are very few of us, and we would like a little bit more attention to be given to our people.
Vladimir Putin: Let’s look into all of this, because honestly, we know little about it, so in any case, we need to at least update the information available, look at what can be done with all this, including, first and foremost, with the house of worship that you mentioned. I don’t think it involves that much money. Of course, we need to think of the people living there and make corresponding decisions that will satisfy them. We need to look into it, but overall, we certainly need to support this idea. We will think about what can be done, okay?
Dora Pirkova: Thank you.
Chairperson of the Simferopol City District Association of Tatars Idel Svetlana Aliyeva: Mr President, may I say a few words?
Vladimir Putin: Please, go ahead.
Svetlana Aliyeva: I want to defuse the situation somewhat. Thanks to you, Mr President, thanks to President [of Tatarstan Rustam] Minnikhanov, our Kazan community is flourishing. Do you know how much help he has provided over this period? I want to bow thanks to him on behalf of our federation and Bakhchisarai residents.
The residents of Bakhchisarai have asked for help in restoring the mosque in the 6th residential neighbourhood densely populated by Crimean Tatars. You know, the response was instant. I thought it would take six months or so. Instead, it took a week! They came with a project, did everything, and people are already praying at that mosque and thank us every time for that.
And I also want to say thank you on behalf of the children: this year, 1,200 children spent their holidays at a summer camp in Kazan, while here, in Peschany, we hosted orphans, the underprivileged, those in need, and so on. The food was excellent, youth leaders and instructors from Kazan were wonderful. It was just amazing. Thank you very much!
Vladimir Putin: I hope that other Russian regions will get just as actively involved in this – I asked the governors to establish direct contacts with individual regions in Crimea and Sevastopol. I know that many regions are working in that direction.
President of the Inkishaf Society of Crimean Tatars regional public organisation, member of the Russian Federation Presidential Council for Interethnic Relations Eskender Bilyalov: I want to assure you, Mr President, that we no longer have this problem in Crimea. We had it a little bit during the transition period, but I can assure you that the representatives of all the diasporas and the Crimean Tatars are engaged in very serious dialogue, and we understand one another very well.
Even those times when the Crimean Tatars and other deported peoples started moving to Crimea, mainly in 1987, even then, we did not have a single interfaith, interethnic conflict. There wasn’t even a hint of it. Someone tried to create it from the outside: they burned mosques and destroyed our cemeteries, but we always worked with our own people, saying that we cannot fight evil with evil. I think we really won on that front. Regardless of how much anyone (in Ukraine or other nations) wanted to see Crimea blazing in some kind of fire, see it as a place of injustice, I assure you it did not work. All this is useless. I am always ready to sit down with Mr Chubarov or anyone in any studio and discuss this subject.
As regards the Crimean Tatars and deported peoples in general, I want to thank you, as the President of the Russian Federation. After all, 70 years is a very long time. We did not see an executive order in the Soviet Union or in Ukraine. You issued an Executive Order on Rehabilitation. I was among the first to issue certificates of rehabilitation – this was in the Saky City Municipality – to the elderly, and you could read absolutely everything in their eyes, their entire lives; there was joy, there were tears. I thank you for that, on behalf of all deported peoples, including the Crimean Tatars.
I would like to touch a little bit on another matter: the issue of the Crimean Tatars’ return. You know, a study was conducted, and no more than 35,000 Crimean Tatars want to move. If we take into account the fact that for the past 6–7 years, the number of people moving is 1,500 to 2,000 people a year, it would take 15 years. I do not think there will be any major influx from other countries; it would mainly be from Uzbekistan. There are few Crimean Tatars residing in other Central Asian states like Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
Now as regards the congress: everything concerning Crimean Tatars’ problems should be resolved in Crimea. We returned to the Russian Federation and our hopes are on the Russian Federation. We were told many things: that there was no money, there was no time – all this was in the Soviet Union and in Ukraine. But we hope that your executive order and the Executive Order on Rehabilitation of the Repressed Peoples signed by President of Russia Boris Yeltsin, will work fully.
I want to state with full responsibility that the people are waiting and they believe in you. I also very much believe in you.
I want to express my gratitude to Mr Tsekov for supporting the idea that the Crimean Tatar language should be studied, especially since Crimean Tatars did not have their own schools or preschools for 70 years. We grew up studying Russian literature and speaking Russian language. 100% of Crimean Tatars speak Russian just as good as ethnic Russians do.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, I know that.
Eskender Bilyalov: I would like to ask you to give this attention and support Sergei Tsekov and Remzi Ilyasov in this respect. This would be the second law on rehabilitation of the Crimean Tatars.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.
You have heard my position; it needs to be decided at the regional level. All of this is within the competence of the regions in Russia. Tatarstan has one set of policies, Mordovia has another, but the essence is the same. We have a positive attitude toward the study of ethnic languages. It simply needs to be organised. If you need some sort of methodical assistance, we are ready to help.
Eskender Bilyalov: Thank you.
I visited the President of Tatarstan, and the organisation of our visit was very serious, we spent a week there. We visited everything, including schools, and I also had a personal meeting with the President of Tatarstan. I am very grateful for that trip. We came to many substantive conclusions, very serious ones.
Chairman of the Crimean Republican Jewish Association Anatoly Gendin: It is a great honour for me to speak here today on behalf of the Jewish community of the Crimean Republic. A little more than a year has passed since the referendum and we can see the results of the positive changes that took place in our republic in terms of ethnic and cultural organisations.
First, the authorities have become more accessible, we meet more often.
Second, the issues of the return of religious buildings are being resolved. For many years there was no resolution on the return of the Talmud Torah school in Simferopol – this was a religious school for boys. Just recently, the matter has been resolved, and the road-map for the building’s return has been signed. We are also working on the return of the merchants’ synagogue in Yevpatoria. This is a positive development that we could not get from Ukraine for 20 years. Now it is being resolved.
Our tragedy and our pain is the 10th kilometre of the Feodosia highway, where over 18,000 of Krymchaks, prisoners of war and Gypsies were shot in one month in 1941. Over the past two decades, the place has been plundered by black gravediggers, who broke through the 30-cm thick concrete sarcophagus layer and dug around in the bones at a 5-metre depth looking for treasures. Now the authorities have it under their control and together with Jewish organisations they have worked out a set of measures to develop and preserve this site that is sacred for us all – the Jews and the Krymchaks.
In April, the Crimean Jewish organisations supported by the Crimean Council of Ministers and State Council signed a joint appeal to the Jewish organisations across the world asking them to turn to their governments and leaders of the European Union nations to lift the sanctions imposed on Russia and Crimea. This appeal was handed over to the President of the Federal Jewish Ethnic Cultural Autonomy Vladimir Sternfeld, who collected signatures from the leaders of Russia’s Jewish organisations, and then, in May, at a meeting with the delegation from the Conference of European Rabbis in the Vatican, the Chief Rabbi of Moscow Pinchas Goldschmidt handed the appeal over to Pope Francis. The appeal was also sent to Jewish organisations in the United States, Germany and many other European countries.
Our Jewish organisations constantly feel the support of the state, Russia’s Jewish organisations and the federal autonomy, of the Russian Jewish Congress, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, and the Association of Progressive Jewish Congregations in Russia.
Vladimir Putin: I was just going to ask you about your relations with Russian Jewish organisations.
Anatoly Gendin: We have very good relations with Russia’s Jewish organisations. They began contacting us right after the referendum to offer help, and they do help. There was a time when the Jewish organisations of Ukraine could not help us and the Jewish organisations of Russia started helping. We received help from the Federal Jewish Ethnic Cultural Autonomy, the Russian Jewish Congress and the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia [FEOR]. One of our latest actions was to set up a memorial plaque to honour General Kreiser, and FEOR funded it. General Kreiser was a liberator of Crimea and we had to set up this plaque to honour him.
Vladimir Putin: Have you been to the Tolerance Museum [the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Centre] in Moscow?
Anatoly Gendin: I have. It is a wonderful museum, I was overwhelmed.
Now we are looking forward to having the bridge built so we can have direct contact. I hope that after it is built we will have good connections with the mainland, in terms of tourism and other things.
I would like to thank you for the help you and the Russian Federation are providing. The main thing is that we have peace and quiet, any other problems will pass.
Vladimir Putin: We will soon be opening – not we, but the Jewish organisations – a major religious educational centre near Moscow. A new modern centre. It may also be interesting for you to see how it is done, at what level, so you could learn or maybe even have a similar project. You could modernise it and implement it in Crimea as well.
Anatoly Gendin: Thank you.
Head of the Ukrainian Ethnic and Cultural Community in Simferopol City District Oleg Kravchenko: Good afternoon, Mr President.
I am the chairman of the local Ukrainian ethnic and cultural community. On behalf of all ethnic Ukrainians, I want to thank you for returning Crimea to Russia and establishing Ukrainian as an official language in the Republic of Crimea.
Despite the many attempts to distort the facts about the Ukrainian population’s life in the Republic of Crimea, I want to tell you that Crimea is a land of calm, of constructive creativity and communication between all ethnic groups. We maintain relations with everyone.
We are a relatively young organisation within the framework of Russian legislation, but now we are building momentum and creating a regional organisation; we are forming chapters in all the cities and representation in all municipalities. We maintain relations with the Ukrainian population through our community in Ukraine and we are trying to convey to them that ethnic Ukrainians’ choice for Crimea, which we declared at the referendum on Crimea’s accession to the Russian Federation, was a conscious decision by ethnic Ukrainians and there is no need for speculation, there is no need to make some sort of interpretation, which has been happening very often lately.
In particular, this is done by politicians who, you might say, organised a coup in Ukraine. You know very well for yourself what is happening now. When speaking with relatives and loved ones, we express hope that this war will end and Ukrainians, Russians and other ethnicities will begin to communicate more closely and there will be complete rapport between ethnic groups.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.
I’m sure you have heard what I have said about this many times publicly. I feel that Russians and Ukrainians are a single people, and we do not distinguish between them. I was very happy to find out a year and a half ago that people here feel the same way.
Oleg Kravchenko: We never felt ourselves to be separate.
Vladimir Putin: As your current leaders stated to me, when they did not hold that role yet, in response to my question, they said, “We do not even ask about anyone’s ethnicity; we do not care.”
I am certain that in spite of all the difficulties faced today, the situation in Ukraine will also be resolved and Ukraine will develop positively, leaving behind the shameful practices we observe today, namely, putting an entire enormous European nation under external governance and putting foreign citizens in key positions of regional governance.
I think all this is humiliating to the Ukrainian people. This will certainly be assessed by the Ukrainian people and Ukraine will get on its feet and develop positively, building its future together with Russia.
Oleg Kravchenko: You know, this has proven to be true even during this tourist season, because many Ukrainian residents came to Crimea and saw the calm and peaceful sky above their heads – no tanks, no planes, nothing like that.
Vladimir Putin: It’s a tragedy. I am not going to make any comments on this now, but I want to express my hope that it will be as you stated. I am confident of it.
As for Ukrainians in Russia, you know, if we speak officially, in the language of statistics, it is the third largest ethnic group in Russia after ethnic Russians and Tatars. We have five million Tatars residing in Russia and three million ethnic Ukrainians, without counting those who are here temporarily and are Ukrainian citizens – we have another 3 million people who fit that description, and the majority of them are men of conscription age, for reasons that are obvious. Many are working, finding jobs in Russia, in order to support their families in Ukraine. Not only do we not interfere, but I am sure you know that we also make decisions that liberalise stays by Ukrainian citizens on Russian territory.
Chairman of the Taurida Regional Ethnic and Cultural Community of Greeks in the Republic of Crimea Ivan Shonus: Mr President, colleagues,
Greeks have historically inhabited the Crimean Peninsula; this is an undeniable fact. Our historical monuments speak to this, as do places of worship and history itself. Greeks actively participated in many historical events, preserving the culture of ancient Taurida and present-day Crimea.
Greeks’ modern history is inextricably linked to the life of Crimea, alongside other peoples. This was demonstrated in the referendum held last year. Greeks understand that they are an inherent part of the Russian world and express gratitude to the nation’s leadership for preserving peace in the Republic of Crimea. We are also grateful to all the citizens of the Russian Federation for supporting Crimea’s reunification with Russia.
Thanks to your Executive Order on measures to rehabilitate the Armenian, Bulgarian, Greek, Crimean Tatar and German minorities and state support for their revival and development, after many years, we have finally gained the opportunity to identify the problems faced by Greeks and other deported peoples, and to begin finding concrete solutions. On April 21 of this year, the Head of the Republic of Crimea declared this day to be the Day of Justice and Unity for the People of Crimea, and the new Artemis Greek dance ensemble demonstrated its mastery during this celebration.
I want to say that a great deal of work is underway by the Greek ethnic and cultural community, which was officially registered in 2014 in accordance with Russian legislation, although even before that, we had not stopped our work on addressing our compatriots’ problems in Crimea for a single moment.
We have given a great deal of attention to the patriotic education of young people. Greeks participated in many events that were held at the Crimean and Russian national level. In that time, we became members of the federal Greek ethnic and cultural community, headed by Ivan Savvidi, and we are receiving maximum financial and moral support from him. This includes, for example, the restoration of a church in the village of Laki, which was burned in 1942 by the Nazis. It is almost completely restored today and we have the opportunity to go pray there.
I want to say that we feel sympathy from the Republic of Crimea’s leadership, since we are working for the good of the republic and our people. We are doing a great deal of work to lower the level of tension from the political sanctions that have been declared with respect to Crimea and Russia. We are saying from different platforms that the sanctions being applied are illegal. Why? Because today, we have peace in Crimea.
Here in the Republic of Crimea we manifest ourselves and share our history, culture and traditions with the media. The main TV channel in Crimea has a Greek programme, similar to programmes for Armenians, Bulgarians, Greeks and Germans. But today, this is not enough. We know that the immigrants who come here should receive legal assistance in dealing with their resettlement, they should receive social guarantees. And I think that each ethnic and cultural autonomous group can really help in this.
Just as Sergei Tsekov said, Crimea should become a destination for Orthodox tourism. Greeks treat their monuments with great care and respect, for example Mount Mangup and the Principality of Theodoro. This is a principality from the late Byzantine period and is part of ancient Pontus. And since we are Pontian Greeks, we also want to see the temples there restored. Today, this is a place of pilgrimage and tourism, like Panticapaeum in Kerch.
Thank you very much for including the Chersonesus Archeological Museum in the federal register. We have also read that all our cultural monuments will be included in this register, including Mangup, Panticapaeumand others. Why? Because the Greeks in our group constantly asked me to appeal to you with this request. But today, this has already become a reality.
Mr President, friends,
The Greeks have always lived in peace and harmony with all the peoples of Crimea, always next to them in joy and in sorrow. One example is our yearly participation in mourning events marking the deportation of Crimean peoples and the joint celebration of religious holidays, Christian Easter, Muslim Eid ul-Fitr, Armenian Vardavar and many others. I want to say that we are ready to engage in active work and want to use all the instruments and resources we have as much as possible, both our own and those that are provided to ethnic and cultural communities by Russian and Crimean legislation.
Vladimir Putin: Mr Shonus, I think there is no doubt about the indigenous status of Greeks in Crimea, this is obvious. It is patently clear, and not just in Crimea, incidentally, but throughout the entire northern shore of the Black Sea.
As for your suggestions, we will also document all this and try to respond. This concerns various areas of tourism as well. What you suggested is certainly very interesting, just like the Muslim monuments, including architectural monuments, which are of great interest, and many people come here to look at all this with their own eyes. So by taking advantage of Crimea’s cultural diversity, I am sure we can develop this territory the way that people living here want, and the way the entire Russian nation wants.
Unfortunately, I now need to go to my next event.
Yury Gempel: Mr President, I’ve been instructed by everyone to saya couple of words.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, go ahead.
Yury Gempel: Mr President, my colleagues asked, first, that you find the time to take a photo with us…
Vladimir Putin: Let’s do that right now.
Yury Gempel: And second, Mr President, you know, every region of the Russian Federation, as well as the entire world, has its own legends. In Crimea, we also have a very ancient legend. I will not spend a long time recounting it; it’s about love, friendship and betrayal. The legend speaks of a golden cradle that is hidden here in Crimea. The person possessing this cradle will possess Crimea, with peace and mutual understanding throughout the peninsula. You know, many have tried to find the cradle but in vain. Today, this symbolic cradle is here, and we ask you to accept is as a symbol of our appreciation of everything you have done for us as Crimeans.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.